Sunday 21 April 2019

Dublin Port's controversial decision to cut down on cruise ships has 'serious knock-on effect' for other cities - Tánaiste

A view down the River Liffey towards Dublin Port
A view down the River Liffey towards Dublin Port

Ralph Riegel

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney warned that Dublin Port's controversial decision to restrict cruise liner traffic could have serious knock-on implications for Cork, Waterford, Belfast which have massively benefitted from the expansion of the money-spinning tourism sector.

Dublin Port defended its decision to reduce the number of cruise liners allowed berth each season from 160 down to 80 by 2021 because of the imminent demands imposed by Brexit.

The port is desperately trying to increase provision for freight and container traffic in light of the UK's departure from the EU and its implications for Irish imports and exports.

However, Mr Coveney confirmed he has raised the issue within Government because of its potential knock-on cost to other Irish ports.

"I have raised this issue - I know that (Transport) Minister Shane Ross is aware of this issue," he said.

"The decision that Dublin makes has an impact on other ports because of course the capital city has a very strong draw in terms of cruise liner traffic.

"Cruise liner traffic has been increasing year-on-year in Dublin but of course there is a space problem for Dublin Port. They have to prioritise how they use that space in the context of Brexit planning and more freight and more bulk product coming in and out of that port.

"But I do think there needs to be a further discussion in terms of how Dublin Port can find a way of giving leadership on cruise liner traffic because of course that impacts on Cork, Waterford, Killybegs, Dingle and Belfast in terms of attracting more cruise liner ships.

"When they visit Dublin, they will also visit ports around the island of Ireland. So, we do need to try to ensure these decisions are made in the context of the national interest as well as the difficult commercial decisions that Dublin Port has to make given the confined nature of the port facilities that they have."

Dublin Port insisted its cruise liner decision was rooted in commercial pragmatism.

Dublin Port chief executive Eamon Reilly insisted they had no option but to ration available port capacity given the competition for berth spaces and the looming implications of Brexit.

However, the decision to restrict cruise liner numbers is seen as a body blow to ports including Cork, Waterford and Belfast given the boom in the cruise liner trade over the past decade.

Dublin, Cork and Belfast have enjoyed their greatest seasons since the heyday of the liner trade in the 1950s.

Both Dublin and Cork are set to welcome record liner numbers in 2019 with cruise passengers now the highest per capita spenders of any segment of the tourist industry.

Cork hosted a total of 92 cruise ships last year - and hopes to exceed that figure by 10pc in 2019.

However, any Dublin decision to restrict cruise liner visits will inevitably hit other ports like Cork.

So great is the recent expansion of the cruise liner sector in Ireland that Cobh, Ireland's busiest liner port, is now examining the development of a second cruise liner berth at Lynch's Quay.

A total of 157,000 passengers and 69,000 crew visited Cork in 2018 delivering a €12m boost to the Cobh and Cork economies.

A new study has revealed cruise liner passengers spend an average of €81 per visit - the highest spending element of the Irish tourism sector.

Further, while the cruise liner trade is hugely lucrative for Dublin and Cork ports, it has also involved a massive spin-off benefit for day trip destinations including the Guinness Hop Store, Jameson Distillery in Midleton, Blarney Castle and even Killarney.

In 2018 it is estimated that 27.2 million people will have taken a cruise on over 450 cruise ships worldwide.

Dublin and Cork were expected to enjoy another decade of expansion given that the the cruise liner sector now has 113 new ships, many of them super liners, on order from shipyards worldwide.

Feedback from the leading cruise companies has been very positive about Ireland with the country seen as a high quality, safe and varied destination.

Cruise itineraries featuring Ireland are amongst the most popular over recent years.

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